Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.’ And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.
Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.
In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons, entered the ark, they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind – every bird, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.
The flood continued for forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; •
therefore can I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures •
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He shall refresh my soul •
and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; •
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me; •
you have anointed my head with oil
and my cup shall be full.
6 Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life, •
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Sermon on Fourth Sunday of Easter
I resorted to my commentaries on the Gospel of John to start me thinking about our second lesson. One thing that made me realise why I had such a hard time starting my thoughts was this remark: “The image of the shepherd is so common in the OT that the comparison is not normally given at length, but is reduced to allusions and metaphors.” And as Jesus and the disciples were Jews immersed in the OT, their use of images is diffuse and tangential, as symbols always are.
No wonder I couldn’t make a start. What is this allusion in our gospel reading today? What is the meaning of the metaphor which Jesus drops before us to explain just who he is?
“I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus says, explicitly speaking to everyone who dares listen to his pronouncements, as an explanation of who he is.
You have all heard at some point about the great “I am” sayings. The theologians and exegetes have latched onto this form of saying and have built elaborate structures of meaning which connect the statement of God in the OT where God reveals his name with the so-called “revealer discourses” of the mystery religions. In other words, the scholars have looked into the whole history of the period and connected everything to Jesus, especially these revelatory pronouncements as to who God is – to explain who Jesus is relative to his contemporary society, that melting pot of the Roman Empire of the Hellenistic period. Jesus reveals who he is through the use of symbol. The statement, “I am the gate for the sheep,” brings together so many thoughts and meanings for the hearer of this discourse that we are confronted by – what are for us – obscure allusions and metaphor.
For Jesus to use the “I am” formula raises expectations right from the beginning. “I am” for the Jew raises red flags about this fellow. Who is he to use that sacred formulation? For some Jesus is seen to be the revelation of God in the world, isn’t he? We must surely see Jesus as the “gate” of the sheepfold. We all acknowledge this, else why would we be knocking on this particular door.
“I am the gate for the sheep.” This bold statement is rather difficult for us to understand, isn’t it? After all, how many of us have anything to do with sheep in our everyday lives? But as that scholar said,
The image of the shepherd has been used in many forms and ways in history. In Oriental and Greek antiquity the comparison between the ruler and the shepherd, and between his people and the flock, was wide-spread and ancient.
And we all know the psalm we recited today. That is the most familiar use of the shepherd symbol from the OT. I think we still use the shepherd analogy today when we speak of leaders, and we still speak of weak sheep lost in the wicked world from which we hope they will rescue us. – We probably will hear a lot more of this sort of language in the next few weeks.
We understand shepherds and sheep instinctively, but preachers and teachers always want to make knowledge certain and conscious, never to be forgotten. No longer is the vague “Oh, yes … ” enough. Let us, then, disentangle the saying before we consider its meaning. Jesus explicitly speaks about the sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd, and that they are quite calm when he enters the fold, speaking with each. They know the shepherd’s voice, Jesus says.
We have always been told that sheep in the middle east follow the shepherd. They are not driven like the sheep of England. – This may be a telling remark, but we will have to speak of this at another time. – The sheep follow calmly because the shepherd speaks to them. Jesus tells us that the shepherd boldly enters where the sheep are kept overnight. The sheep in the fold react positively to him alone – they know his voice and he knows each one of them by name. He calls them out by name and they follow him. They know his voice and they will go with that voice. The hireling or the thief will not have the same reaction – instead the sheep will scatter, they will run away from that stranger. The shepherd calls and they return.
I wonder if this reminds you of anything? – Our reading on Easter Day tells about the power of Jesus’ voice. He called Mary by name and she knew her Lord and her God immediately, “Rabbouni”. Jesus is the shepherd of souls – we sheep know his voice.
What does that voice do for us? What sort of sheep am I? That question is what confronts me when I think of Jesus the shepherd. I am in this sheepfold of the Church – I have entered the fold through the one door, that door of Jesus – and now I hear his voice – how do I react? What does that voice do to me? What is my response when I hear my name from his lips?
The voice of the Lord is a prophetic voice for me. It makes me ask, “What is the good? What is beneficial to all? What is the true?” These are philosophical questions, I admit, but they do bind us together in a manner that the ways of the profane world do not. When we look at people around us, we see them acting for their own motives of selfishness, whether it be the thief stealing millions or the greedy fellow taking the last rollo, as the ad used to chide us.
So when the prophet intones, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” don’t we always respond with the question, “What shall I do to prepare the way of the Lord?” Our response to the call of our shepherd is not “What is in it for me?”, but we reply, “What can I possibly do for the Lord?” This is just like Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” – Our own country is entered through that gate. We are the sheep of this particular sheepfold.
We have all heard that prophetic voice calling each of us by our names! There is no escaping that call, for it resounds throughout all of our lives, calling us into the fold, to the heavenly country. We gladly enter because that voice brings us to what is the good, the beneficial and the true, doesn’t it? It is not a particularly easy path – the narrow way never is – but we shall follow our shepherd. We understand why Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep,” because he is the means by which we enter the kingdom. But Jesus is the end – our goal – toward which we head when we live out the prophetic words which he left for everyone, when we hear him intone our names.